A Birthright Citizenship Amendment?

by Reihan Salam

Back in 2010, I explained why I believe that that the U.S. should reform its approach to birthright citizenship, and I revisited the debate last year, when President Obama signed his executive order to temporarily shield 3.8 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. (You’ll recall that one of the reasons the president put this executive order in place was to keep families consisting of unauthorized immigrants and their U.S.-born children intact.) Like Australia, Britain, France, Ireland, and New Zealand, I’d recommend that we end automatic birthright citizenship and instead preserve it for the children with at least one citizen or lawful permanent resident parent.

Of course, there are many conservatives who question the wisdom of such a reform, not least because many observers believe that it would require a constitutional amendment. Let’s accept for the moment that a constitutional amendment would indeed be required to end automatic birthright citizenship. I don’t doubt that such a constitutional amendment would prove contentious, and difficult to pass. But if ever a serious campaign for such an amendment arises, I have one small suggestion: instead of limiting this proposed amendment to the birthright citizenship question, it should also include a clause allowing naturalized U.S. citizens to run for president. Would this prevent supporters of the amendment from being attacked as nativists, or worse? Certainly not. It would, however, be the right thing to do.

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